Interview with LARRY BARRAGAN (Helstar) – 12 June 2014

Helstar

Larry Barragan, guitarist and sole founding member of the American Power Metal institution Helstar, has been living and breathing Metal since the band’s inception back in 1982 and his passion and love for the said genre is certainly reflected in the band’s latest opus “This Wicked Nest”.

It was during the band’s short tour in Europe in promotion for the said album that, with the help of the Internet, I got in contact with Larry and provided him with a few questions relevant to the band’s current and future plans. The answers I was provided were, as you will soon find out, very honest and revealing indeed.

By Yiannis (John) Stefanis

  • Hi Larry. First of all, let me congratulate you on an album well done. We had to wait for four or so years for “This Wicked Nest” to come out but it was certainly worth the wait. Are you happy with the end result?

Larry: “Thanks! Yeah, we’re very happy with it. We put a lot of work into it and to see it all come together was beautiful. I mean, there’s always something that you wish would have been done a little different, both musically and production wise, but in the end it all worked out.”

  • “This Wicked Nest” is the fourth studio album released under the protective wings of the German label AFM Records, which suggests that the parties involved enjoy a pretty healthy working relationship. What common strategies have you employed in battling modern-day problems, such as diminishing record sales as the result of illegal downloading?

Larry: “Well, really once the album is out there isn’t really too much you can do to stop it.  There’s just too many p2p sites out there. Look, the only thing we can do is put out a nice looking package and hopefully the fans, the real fans of the band that is, will understand that we need them to buy the CD’s and the digital downloads from reputable sources, so that we can all continue to do what we love doing. We can’t stop anything anymore. No one can.”

  • Being based on the UK, I am particularly interested in what the response from the local music press here has been towards the album. Are you happy with how it has been received over here?

Larry: “I’ve only read a couple of reviews and they were both pretty good. I’m sure there’s some bad ones out there, because there always is. But for the most part, I’ve been happy with the reviews.

To be honest, no one likes reading bad reviews. But it’s part of the business and you just deal with it. In the end, the only review that matters is the one we give ourselves.  We have to be happy with what we’ve done. We have to know that we did our very best.”

Helstar

  • In the press release which accompanied the album, James was recorded as saying that “This Wicked Nest” is ‘a little more melodic’ compared to 2010’s “Glory Of Chaos”. Now, though this is a fairly accurate statement, your latest musical offspring is an intense album through and through. Did you start working on the nine compositions with a specific plan in mind or is this album ended up writing itself?

Larry: You know, it’s always the scariest thing to start writing a new album because it’s just a blank canvas. The only thing I know is that I want it to be heavy. Once we start putting it together and I start writing lyrics and putting melodies together, yeah it kind of just falls into place. Obviously, when you have James singing you want to leave room for him to do just that. I did have that in mind. But I wanted to stretch notes out over the faster passages as well.”

  • The opening line of “Fall Of Dominion” states ‘When the people fear the government, there is tyranny – when the government fear the people, there is liberty’ with many other lyrics on the remaining eight compositions which seem to tackle issues, such as tyranny, injustice and freedom. Is “This Wicked Nest” a protest album in terms of its message?

Larry: “I think “This Wicked Nest” is an album that mirrors what we see in the world. There is a sort of rise up and be counted theme but that’s only because that’s what people are doing. You see that in social media, on the news, etc. There’s the struggle for power and freedom.  People are resisting; some are successful and some are being crushed.”

Helstar

  • Johan de Jager’s work on the cover artwork is quite impressive. What made him the right person for the job? Did he work on strict guidelines provided by yourselves or was he allowed total freedom of expression?

Larry: “No, we all worked together on it. Even the label got involved. I think some people are confused with the cover sometimes. For once ‘Skully’, our kind of mascot, got a somewhat different look. Really, we just wanted to show that the smiling faces and the nicely pressed suits you see are really the disguise and that when you remove that mask, you then see the pure evil and corruption of those that lead the world.”

  • I understand that you are one of those people that has been actively involved in the production of this album – an album that sounds both fresh and dynamic. How would you describe the recording process; how much studio time was at your disposal and how helpful did you find the fact that different studios were involved in the process?

Larry: “It’s different these days to the old days, but Rob, Mikey and I all bought Pro Tools and the interfaces for it, so we’re able to record at home. It was actually a huge endeavour and we had to deal with a learning curve, because we had worked with Pro Tools but not in the sense where we were actually the engineer, but I think it worked out really well.

What we ended up doing is recording the performances at home and then we made sure we had recorded a clean track to give to the studio. That clean track was then re-amped at a proper studio. We were able to try all the different amp combinations and microphone combinations and not waste time or money getting the performances….. It’s kind of weird, because you hear yourself playing through the amp but you’re not playing….. It’s just the signal being pushed through your amp.”

  • “This Wicked Nest” consists of nine compositions. Is that all the material that you prepared for the album or were there any ideas which were left behind?

Larry: “No, we don’t write like that. Whatever is on the album is what we wrote for the album.  We don’t waste time on songs that aren’t good enough to be recorded. I usually know right away if a riff just isn’t good enough. And I won’t pursue it if that’s the case.”

  • Which of the nine compositions are the ones closer to the heart and which ended up sounding totally different than how you originally envisioned them after the mixing process was complete?   

Larry: “Hmm; they all are pretty close to what we demoed realistically. We may have extended or shortened a few things here and there, but for the most part they stayed pretty close to what we started off with.”

  • Ex-Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis has made a personal contribution to the album, on the dynamic instrumental “Isla De Las Munecas”. How did this collaboration come about and why did you choose this specific song for him to add his unique touch to?

Larry: “I became friends with Jeff a few years ago and to my surprise, he was a fan of the band.  Whenever we’d see each other he would always bring up the idea of collaborating on a song and I’d laugh and say, “yeah for sure!”… I never thought it would happen? I mean, come on, he’s Jeff Loomis; what could I write that he wouldn’t laugh at?

But when I started writing this song, I had a good feeling about it and so I called him up and asked him if he was still interested. Thankfully he was. I gave him free reign to do whatever he wanted to do. If he wanted to solo or just write a couple of measures, I would have been happy.

But he really wanted to do something like we did on “Whore Of Babylon”, and this is the end result. I’m very happy with it and just blown away that Jeff would even consider doing something with us.”

Helstar

  • Back in May the band visited Europe for a short nine-day trek. Did you enjoy performing your latest material on the ‘old continent’? How do these new songs sound in a live environment?

Larry: “Yeah, I always like doing the new songs. It’s cool to be able to get that instant reaction to a new song; to know when the song is going over well. We don’t do a lot of different guitar sounds when we record, so when we play live we’re able to duplicate the songs with no issue.”

  • So far, the only live dates announced for this summer involve the month June and the US. Are there any plans of the band coming back to Europe to perhaps perform at one of the summer Metal Festivals?

Larry: We don’t have any plans to be back. I guess that could change but we haven’t been invited to any festivals and by now that would have been booked. We’re going to do more dates here in the US throughout the year and there are plans to hit some countries we haven’t played at the beginning of next year.”

  • With an album still fresh, asking what your future plans are may seem a pretty strange question. However, since Helstar have been going for thirty two years now, one has to wonder what the future holds.  Are you guys operating on an annual or ‘five year plan’ basis?

Larry: “We just kind of take it how it comes. We’ve been busy playing. We didn’t sit for 3 years doing nothing after “Glory Of Chaos” for sure. We did the live DVD and we even toured in support of that.”

“I think we’ll start writing a new one maybe spring of next year. At least that’s what I envision.”

  • Larry; I want to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and wish you all success for current and future plans. The last words are yours. 

Larry: “Thank you Yiannis! I just want to thank all of the fans for staying with us on this long, twisted ride and know this, we’re not done yet. I think we still have a few more riffs to write before it’s all said and done.”

Album review


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